David Avoids Saul—while Waiting for God’s Time
We discuss Saul-David interactions in the context of a mentor vs mentee relationship that deteriorates and turns deadly against mentee. David tried containment of the threat initially but later chose avoidance of Saul, established safe distance from him, and moved quickly and frequently to maintain the distance. To implement the avoidance strategy, he setup elaborate network for sending and gathering information to predict Saul’s next move and stay ahead of him. His strategy did not include standing his ground, because he revered Saul as the sitting God-anointed king.
We discuss interactions between Saul and David in the context of a mentor vs mentee relationship that deteriorates and turns deadly against the mentee. Recall from our previous study under When Promising Path Terminates that David thrived as a high-ranking officer and commander in Saul’s army. He showed himself an effective leader and cherished the opportunities of his position as his positive reputation grew rapidly among the people. His service in Saul’s army appeared to define a clear path to kingship.
Saul’s relationship with David could be viewed as mentor vs mentee because David was learning from Saul’s experience as he grew in the service. Saul was the king, supreme commander, and an experienced fighting man when David joined the service. Their relationship started with Saul convincing David’s father Jesse to release David into his service: “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him” [1 Samuel 16:22]. However, after David triumphed over Goliath and led Israel to victory against Philistines, his relationship with Saul deteriorated and evolved later into Saul seeking desperately to kill him, e.g., by hauling the spear at him: “I’ll pin David to the wall” [1 Samuel 18:11]. Therefore, we can consider Saul a mentor to David initially that became less comfortable with his mentee and eventually turned predator against him.
Initially, David apparently believed he could contain the threat. He intended to remain in Saul’s service, loyal to Saul, but vigilant to protect himself from Saul. Containment was adequate initially. He eluded Saul’s spear attack three times. However, the third time was different for two reasons. First, Saul violated an oath to his son Jonathan by throwing the spear at David the third time: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death” [1 Samuel 19:6]. Second, he threw the spear with decisive lethality such that it penetrated into the wall behind David. That night, David decided containment was inadequate and “made good his escape” [1 Samuel 19:10]. David’s strategy against the threat from Saul changed from containment to establishing and maintaining a safe distance from Saul.
The modern-day society presents several possibilities of a mentor vs mentee relationship deteriorating and turning deadly against the mentee. Examples could be found in business, politics, academia, or several other areas of living where a person (the mentee) tries to gain a foothold by learning from or understudying another (the mentor). The mentor often is accommodating initially and could remain so through the relationship. However, if the mentor is unable to accept potential competition from the mentee, the relationship could deteriorate and potentially turn deadly against the mentee. We seek better understanding of the mentee’s options through discussion of the example from David versus Saul after David became aware of Saul’s threat to his life. David survived because of his conduct of the relationship. Saul was determined to kill him and would have if given the opportunity. Similarly, a modern-day mentee faced with a deteriorating mentor-mentee relationship needs to assess the evolving behavior of the mentor and decide whether to contain the threat or pick up and run to save his/her life or career as the case may be.
Containment of Mentor Enmity
Containment implies the mentee remains in position to fulfill his/her responsibilities, loyal to the mentor, but vigilant to protect him/her self against the mentor. For example, David remained in Saul’s service and continued to serve Saul with loyalty as army commander and harp player after Saul’s first spear attack against him. However, he was vigilant for any subsequent attack. He understood potential actions that Saul may use to attack him and watched out for such actions.
The range of possibilities available for a modern-day attack against a subordinate is almost endless and much wider than Saul’s options against David. Therefore, containment may likely be ineffective in several situations. However, containment could be the only option in situations for which a threatened mentee cannot just pick up and leave in order to avoid the threat. In all cases, containment requires capability to predict or anticipate the mentor’s next attack and skill to evade the attack. God grants every person the capability to predict, anticipate, and skillfully evade; and will enhance the capabilities as necessary for those that seek him and live in his image. We will discuss a specific choice by David in responding to Saul after Saul’s open declaration of war against him to understand how the choice illustrates living in the image of God for the situation.
After David departed from Saul, his strategy against Saul’s threat to his life changed from containment of the threat to avoidance of Saul.
He decided to establish a safe distance from Saul and move as quickly and frequently as necessary to maintain the distance. To implement the avoidance strategy, he needed to anticipate or predict Saul’s next move so he could be ahead of him. Therefore, he established sources of intelligence on Saul. However, his purpose for establishing intelligence on Saul was defensive. All he wanted was to be ahead of Saul’s next move in order to avoid him. In contrast, Saul established intelligence on David so he could get to David and harm him before David’s next move. Therefore, Saul’s objective was offensive whereas David’s was defensive.
The bible does not describe their intelligence sources but provides abundant evidence of the intelligence. For example, “Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah” [1 Samuel 23:7] either by hired informants or people that he caused to believe there was potential benefit in informing him about David’s moves. Similarly, “…David learned that Saul was plotting against him” [1 Samuel 23:9] either from hired informants or people that he caused to believe there was potential benefit in informing him about Saul’s plans.
SOPHISTICATED INTELLIGENCE David’s intelligence on Saul was effective and, we can surmise, therefore sophisticated. For example, while David was in the strongholds of the Desert of Ziph, Saul searched frantically for him but could not find him. However, Saul’s son Jonathan found rather easily where David was and visited him there. Therefore, David apparently used his information network to also send messages to trusted compatriots on Saul’s side. Thus, he could communicate easily with Jonathan while Saul searched for him desperately in vain. An effective system for sending and gathering information to and from the other side was important to David for implementing his avoidance strategy. The principle is applicable almost the same way in modern-day interactions.
SEEKING GOD FIRST David applied his human capabilities as he planned and executed his moves. However, he sought God first. Consider for example his decision to leave Keilah. After he determined Saul was planning to besiege Keilah, David prayed to seek God’s guidance [1 Samuel 23:10–11]: “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” David needed to make a choice between leaving Keilah or hiding around within the gated city as Saul planned to come and surround the city to fish him out. He identified the issues and prayed for guidance. Hiding would be a good option if the people will cooperate with him but would not be an option at all if the people will give him up. He sought God’s guidance to make a choice.
His options did not include fighting Saul. First, he knew that Saul’s army was stronger numerically. Second, he feared that a stiff resistance against Saul could result in destruction of the city. Third, a battle against Saul would result in a “kill or be killed” situation against the sitting God-anointed king of Israel. David did not want to get into such a situation against Saul.
LIVING IN THE IMAGE OF GOD He did not want to be in a situation of having to extend his hand against the sitting God-anointed king of Israel. As we discuss under Source of Government Authority in Authority of Government—Israel Asks for King, God delegated to the king (i.e., government) the function of reigning over the people and the authority to execute the function. The king holds the authority on behalf of the people for the purpose of performing government responsibilities. Therefore, government authority comes from God and belongs to the people. Because God is the source of government authority, respect and obedience to government are part of God’s mandate to his people. Therefore, regarding David’s understanding of his interactions with Saul, living in the image of God meant respect and obedience to the king and avoiding any situation that could require him to raise his hand against the sitting God-anointed king of Israel. For this reason, his options for responding to Saul did not include standing his ground to fight. He revered Saul in awe of God.
Summary of What We Learned
We discuss Saul-David interactions in the context of a mentor vs mentee relationship that deteriorates and turns deadly against mentee. David tried containment of the threat initially but later chose avoidance of Saul, established safe distance from him, and moved quickly and frequently to maintain the distance. To implement the avoidance strategy, he setup elaborate network for sending and gathering information to predict Saul’s next move and stay ahead of him. His strategy did not include standing his ground against Saul, because he revered Saul as the sitting God-anointed king of Israel.